There is was an interesting Maurice Sendak interview in The Gaurdian paper yesterday. We all know Sendak as the author & illustration of Where The Wild Things Are. Although Moira, approved if she knew who he was, ambulance would know him as the illustrator of the Little Bear stories because she finds Where The Wild Things Are too scary.
“I refuse to lie to children,” says Sendak. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”
An interesting sentiment coming from a children’s book author although he has something to say about that too:
The term “children’s illustrator” annoys him, since it seems to belittle his talent. “I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person.”
Of course this brings to mind a lot of the crap books I find at the library that are just a little too sicky-sweet for my tastes. On the other side of that coin are books that are now full of jokes for parents to enjoy and in doing so sacrifice a story-line that children can really get behind because they are too hip to ‘just’ cater to children. Pixar and Disney movies are guilty of that too. I’m constantly trying to find the balance between books that have a decent message, aren’t going to scare the sleep out of my child, and still be interesting enough for the both of us to want to read again and again. Still, I think there is nothing wrong with preserving a certain amount of innocence in childhood – especially since the onslaught of marketing to children seems to be taking it away and making our children more adult-issue aware at an earlier and earlier age.
If you read the Sendak interview you can see that the issues that coloured his world were a lot heavier than what is touching our children these days and that is reflected in his work which I think makes him a good “kiddie book person.”
It’s the Waldorf philosophy that you read your children fairytales because everything they need to know is in a fairytale. Even Einstein agreed:
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Fairytales – if they haven’t been altered like this gawd-awful Golden Book version of Red Riding Hood we have – can be scary. But so is the world and while I don’t want make my children afraid of the world I do want to prepare them for it. I remember my sister having a beautifully illustrated copy of The Little Mermaid when I was little and yes, the mermaid died at the end and while I remember thinking about her dying a lot it was more the decisions she made that fascinated me. In my sister’s version the little mermaid turned to sea foam and as I child I always thought that seaweed was the spirit of mermaids washed up on the shore. I think the child’s brain will often take information and process in a way that makes it acceptable and understandable – you just have to be careful what kind of information you are giving them.